Small stories of everyday life IV. – Adventures of a Hungarian Aristocrat in Greater Romania

Probably the best known Hungarian Aristocrat of Greater Romania is the controversial writer, Albert Wass, whose juridical rehabilitation is one of the foremost aims of Hungarian nationalists. His life, at least according to many of his autobiographies was adventurous enough to be the subject of a novel. Therefore I will turn my attention to a less known personality, without literary qualities and products (not taken into consideration being a distant relative of Kelemen Mikes, the exile writer of the 18th century) but more facts and details proved by archival material: Count Ármin Mikes.

Mikes was a typical Hungarian aristocrat from County Trei Scaune, business interests in the rising forestry industry in the region, with a nice  castle in the village of Zăbala and relatives all around Hungary. Not the least he was brother in-law with István Bethlen, prime minister of Hungary between 1921 and 1931. However, Bethlen was an influential politician, considered as the natural leader and powerful figure of Transylvania before 1918. His influence proved to be advantageous for Mikes as well, whose progress seems to have been based on informal relationships. At least the last Hungarian prefect of the county, Aladár Király saw it that way, when in 1918 he announced his will to resign from this post to his friend, István Apáthy, university professor in Cluj, an intimate of the leader of the Independence Party, Mihály Károlyi (later prime minister and president of Hungary) and executive chair of the Transylvanian Allaince, an important social-political organization of the era. Király wished to be released from his post not only due to his shaken belief in the possibility to realize the program of the Independence Party, but because he thought this move to be imminent as he ordered an investigation of the misconduct of a county official as Mikes’ arm (his „home primpretor” as Király phrased it) in the public service. The prefect expected Bethlen to act in favor of his relative and install a more reconciliatory official as the head of the county.

One would think that someone with such links to the elite of the disrupted Hungary would follow the example of his brother-in-law and move to Budapest, but Mikes remained in Romania and soon turned out that his luck still prevailed. His forestry company not only managed to survive the less prospective years of the transition but soon began to flourish. Not surprisingly due to good informal relations in the center of power, Bucharest. According to the prominent national liberal young politician and later diplomat, Raoul Bossy, Mikes was a solitary figure in Bucharest, the only Hungarian frequenting the Jockey Club, a place where the liberal elite spent much time. Moreover, Mikes was a person how frequently asked for royal audience and usually was received there.

His new connections brought almost immediate reward. In 1923 Tancred Constantinescu, in that moment CEO of the CFR, later Minister of Commerce and Industry gave a telegraphic order to the Regional Directorate of the State Railways in Braşov prescribing them to provide Count Mikes’ forestry company with 250 special railway cars in 30 days to transport lumber from Zăbala Herăstrău station to the Galaţi. Nicolae Lupu, fomer Minister of Interior in Vaida Voevod’s first government and that time an MP of the opposition submitted an interpellation which suggested that Constantinescu’s move was a result of favoritism, as General Arthur Văitoianu, Minister of Commerce and Industry, later Minister of Communication was the President of Count Mikes’ company. Moreover, a forestry syndicate complained to Lupu that while Mikes hardly produced 6 carriages of lumber in a day with 7 lumber mills running, their capacity was 240 carriages with their 160 lumber mills.

Albeit Mikes was keen on nurture good relationship with the liberal elite it turned out that a change of government did not necessarily mean hardship for him.  In the early 1930s, when successive governments of the National Peasant Party (and Nicolae Iorga’s government of national concentration) ruled the country the village of Zăbala had to encounter Mikes’ lasting influence. Albeit the count has huge restances with the local tax and the community made continuous attempts to achieve execution (and sell the Count’s castle at an auction)  these were always prohibited in the very last minutes by telegrams from the Ministry of Finance.

His delicate position brought him new responsibilities at the end of the 1930s. When the Hungarian government and a part of the political elite in Hungary – most notably Bethlen – made overtures to Romania  Mikes was the envoy of the „grand old man” of Hungarian politics (Bethlen) to the new Romanian envoy at Budapest, Raoul Bossy. Beyond Mikes’ well kept liberal connections (after all Bossy was a favorite of the late Ion. I. C. Brătianu) an interesting web of family connections made him suitable for this task. Mikes’ forests lied next to the estates of Bossy’s maternal predecessors near Buzău and as it was customary in aristocrat circles it was a strong bond between the families. Moreover, Bossy was a relative to the Baron Szentkereszty family – an aristocrat family in Trei Scaune – and Mikes could have capitalized on his knowledge of Bossy’s family. (Bethlen’s offer was moderate, he insisted on a relaxed minority policy of the Romanian government, concessions to Hungarian institutions in exchange of a friendlier Hungarian stance towards Romania. However, the plan was cunningly designed to distance Romania from the Little Entente and it led to its failure.) But Bossy found Mikes a very good companion and an amiable personality, moreover, a loyal Romanian subject, while keeping his Hungarianness.

The conclusion of the story of Count Mikes are nonetheless not far reaching. It is a very personal story of a man who probably learned very early the advantages of informal relationships. His approach to Romania could have been unique (but not necessarily) and his social position enabled him to forge good contacts with an Old Kingdom elite whose social rules ad behavior were not far from that of Hungarian aristocrats.  (Bossy’s family is quite instructive in this sense.) It is rather a story of an aristocrat than a Hungarian. However, it reveals that – at least for persons with the  necessary social capital and a slightly different understanding of Nationality than most of the middle class – Greater Romania not necessarily was a place of evil and doom. Just as the Romanian elite was ready to treat a Hungarian aristocrat as their equal.

8 gânduri despre “Small stories of everyday life IV. – Adventures of a Hungarian Aristocrat in Greater Romania

  1. Pingback: Small stories of everyday life 5. – Less noble loyalties « MaghiaRomania

  2. Si ce s-a intamplat cu contele Mikes dupa ce Ardealul de Nord a trecut sub administratie maghiara? Dar dupa ce zona a revenit la Romania si a ajuns sunt stapanire comunista? (presupunand ca graf Mikes a trait pana atunci)

    • He continued his lucrative business and died in 1944. But I don’t know what happened with his interests in Romania. However, I wouldn’t be too worried about him, he was at his best during war. In February 1918 he was member of a consortium that bought forests in occupied Montenegro worth 40 million Korona.

  3. Verestóy and some other UDMR politicians are frequently accused – implicitly or explicitly – to have been sold the Hungarian interests – especially autonomy – for the forests in the Secuime. Only guys like Sándor Tamás, chair of the Covasna county council are free from such public accusations because he was a member of the Reform Group – the basis of PCM and National Council of Hungarians from Transylvania – and even if he had (and probably has) very similar business activity he is safe.

  4. His brother Janos Mikes was Bishop in Szombathely and linked to the failed attempt of Karl Habsburg to regain his throne in 1921.

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